Invest in Peace: Five Priorities for the Next EU Budget

06. August 2019   ·   Andrew Sherriff, Pauline Veron

In the upcoming period, Brussels will focus on the EU’s budget for 2021-2027. There are five things actors concerned with conflict prevention and peacebuilding should keep in mind in the budget negotiations. The first one: be prepared to build alliances with unusual bedfellows!

Shifting geopolitical alignments, a changing domestic political culture, and the impacts of violent conflict are altering the frameworks underlying European support for peacebuilding, as demonstrated by research from the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). One example of this trend is the structure of the European Union’s (EU) next multiannual budget, which has aligned itself with the EU policy framework for conflict prevention and peacebuilding insofar as funding is concerned. Bluntly stated, this budget has the potential to be a significant step forward for European peacebuilding. The restructuring for which it calls would be timely given the global uptick in violent conflict. 

With the European parliamentary elections out of the way and the EU’s top jobs delegated, Brussels’s focus will now return to the next EU long-term budget – the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027. With a new budget come new priorities. Peacebuilding should be one of them. ECDPM’s own data analysis places the EU institutions at number four globally as a supporter of peacebuilding over the last ten years. Despite finding itself just shy of the top three, the EU’s role and influence as a multinational organization cannot be overstated. As such, it is imperative that the EU take advantage of its global stature and reputability to craft a stronger global peacebuilding approach.  

Here are the five determinants for a stronger EU policy on conflict prevention and peacebuilding to keep in mind in the EU budget negotiations:

Friends of Heading 6, unite!

The European Commission put forward an ambitious 13 percent real increase in funding for Heading 6 (“Neighbourhood and the World”) of the EU budget. Yet, proposals rarely remain intact, and the net contributing member states are likely to fight to reduce the size of the overall EU budget. Germany’s position here will be crucial.

As ECDPM has noted in the past, there would need to be a strong alliance of “Friends of Heading 6” to defend the heading from cuts. The “alliances” to defend other internal EU budget heading areas – be they agriculture, research or cohesion funding – will be well organized. This may create unusual bedfellows as the traditional peacebuilding community finds itself alongside the defense community, other foreign policy actors, those from the development sector, and climate activists in support of Heading 6. This sort of stratified alliance would be unusual, but likely necessary to achieve the coalition’s aims. And it would not be bad for the peacebuilding community, either, which cannot continue to rely entirely on the flakiness of those who have been consistent supporters of peacebuilding in the past, but have presently sought new allies based upon other issues. If the peacebuilding community (as others) descends to simply defending the “conflict” parts of the pie within Heading 6 or within the proposed 89.2 billion euros earmarked for the Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI, the EU’s new instrument for external action) while neglecting peacebuilding, the measure is likely to lose out overall.

Balance short-term and long-term considerations

What type of “peace” will the new EU political leadership and long-term budget promote? Will it be inclusive, long-term, and multi-stakeholder, or more concerned with short-term stabilization? While the annexes to the NDICI regulation describe briefly what kind of peace and security actions can fall under its different programs (e.g. supporting conflict prevention through mediation, security sector reform, etc.), overall, its links between short-term stability, security, and long-term peacebuilding are either unsubstantiated or unclear.

The proposal does not retain the past EU Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) as a separate tool. Many peacebuilding civil society actors have deplored this, since they fear the specific objective to build peace and prevent conflict will hereby be lost. They have raised concerns about the extent to which the rapid response pillar – which would be the main funding channel for quick responses and adopts an approach similar to that of the IcSP – would be able to muster the longer-term preventive approaches also needed for sustainable peace and conflict prevention.

The details of the EU’s individual financial instruments will take shape over the course of the coming month, and the language of conflict prevention and peacebuilding is likely to gain prominence therein after interventions from the Council (driven by certain member states) and from the European Parliament. All those involved in the negotiations (be it at political or technical level) and concerned about conflict prevention and peacebuilding should make sure that there is a very clear balance in the language of the regulation between funding allocated to short-term crisis management and stabilization (i.e. from the rapid response pillar) as that earmarked  for long-term peacebuilding actions, which could be the focus of the geographic programs (where the bulk of the funding is).

EU’s soft power approach should be protected

The European Commission's budget proposals place a stronger focus on the EU’s own concerns (e.g. migration management), rather than overall collective global security. The EU must indeed be prepared to face numerous challenges in a complex, rapidly changing, and volatile security environment. Yet, at the same time, as the most successful peace project on the planet, the EU must also help to prevent violent conflict elsewhere through a careful mix of targeted civilian and only in very specific circumstances military measures. This dynamic and keen mix of assets is what makes the EU, in the Commission’s own words, “such a unique security player in the world.”

An important novelty in the Commission’s proposal is the establishment of the off-budget European Peace Facility. This new facility would fund operations that have military implications, and therefore cannot be financed under the EU's budget. When designing such innovative instruments to respond to the changing world, EU decision-makers and member states should ensure that the EU’s traditional focus on values and soft power is not undermined. They can accomplish this by establishing appropriate safeguards and fostering a coherent and complementary use of the military and civilian tools the EU has at its disposal.

Make the integrated approach a reality

The EU has been fostering an “integrated” approach to conflicts and crises since 2001, but Brussels has been better at rhetorical repackaging than at actually implementing it. The 2016 Global Strategy promotes the “coherent use of all policies at the EU’s disposal.” The proposed €89.2 billion investment in NDICI, which would merge multiple EU instruments for optimal external action, represents a great opportunity for more coherence.

Yet, at the moment, peace-related objectives are scattered across various pillars: “stability and peace” is a component of the thematic pillar;  “security, stability and peace” figure among the areas of cooperation of the geographic programs; and the rapid response pillar would be foreseen to enable rapid mobilization of (non-programmable) funds in the domains of stability and conflict prevention in situations of urgency, emerging crisis, crisis, and post-crisis intervention (among other goals).

The extent to which actions related to peace under each of these pillars will be coherent and complementary remains to be seen. Their coordination requires negotiators to defend the peace and security objectives they would like the NDICI to serve, rather than specify individual elements and amounts in each of the pillars. While the language and amounts delegated towards peace and security activities in the pillars will remain important, without a broader peace and security vision shared by the EU institutions and the member states, it is unlikely that the NDICI will achieve real progress in coherence. This requires putting pressure on the new leadership of the EU institutions to articulate a positive integrated approach for conflict prevention related to the budget’s implementation.

Engage with the parallel “strategic programming” process

The programming phase will determine where and how much support will be given to conflict prevention and peacebuilding and, more importantly, the extent to which a “conflict prevention and peacebuilding lens” will be used to shape strategic decisions on spending. The instructions on drawing up Multiannual Indicative Programmes (MIPS) – the EU’s multi-year plans that set out the priorities, objectives, expected results, as well as the financial allocations – will come at the end of 2019. What is contained in these documents with regards to peace and security (and how the concepts are understood) will be crucial in directing thematic priorities and implementation modalities. Some fear that the EU’s short-term self-interest will have too much influence on its strategic frameworks and programming choices. Member states, and potentially the Parliament, should scrutinize these to ensure that the right balance is maintained.

In the pre-programming phase that is currently unfolding, member states are consulted by EU delegations, which means their views count in the definition of the EU’s objectives and priorities in partner countries. Member states with an interest in conflict prevention and peacebuilding (like Germany) can use this opportunity to ensure that these objectives are not overlooked and receive the appropriate amounts based on partner countries’ needs. They will also have to ensure that the balance between short-term and long-term actions and the broader peace and security vision – that will hopefully have been achieved during the MFF negotiations – is taken on board on the ground. This role for member states is all the more relevant as joint programming (between the EU and its member states) becomes the Brussels’s preferred approach.

For further information on ECDPM’s work on the changing nature of support to peacebuilding see the dossier Supporting peacebuilding in times of change. For on-going analysis on the EU budget negotiations see the dossier on the Multiannual Financial Framework.

Europäische Union Friedensförderung Europa

Andrew Sherriff

Andrew Sherriff is Head of the European External Affairs program at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).

Pauline Veron

Pauline Veron is Junior Policy Officer in the European External Affairs & Migration programs at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).